Demand for Irish art is high as market ‘due a price jump’

Art auctioneer says prices down 40-50% from peak but recovery is in sight

‘Free Travel’ by Martin Gale

Auctioneers de Veres of Kildare Street, Dublin, whose "Irish Art Auction" takes place on Tuesday (April 17th) believe – a mix of hope and expectation – that "the art market is due a price jump". Auctioneer Rory Guthrie said prices for Irish art had dropped by 60 per cent – and more in some cases – after the economic crash and, although they've "improved slightly since the economic recovery began four years ago they are still down 40-50 per cent from the peak". While he is confident that art prices will rise – "everything else, especially property, has gone up", he admits that "prices haven't yet risen enough to tempt many vendors to sell". But, he added, "If the adage that the art market is 'the last thing to rise and the last to fall' is right, then the steady stream of new buyers entering the auction room is a positive".

Demand is certainly strong. Despite the lack of any major paintings, Adam's last month sold 85 per cent of lots offered in its spring Irish art sale . Guthrie said he was "very happy" with the 165 lots – from various private collections – that have been consigned to de Veres and said "this is a sale of quality in a market short of it" and that the sale had been "deliberately held back in order to have a catalogue that offered that quality". He described the sale as "packed with quality . . . with heavyweight names from the 20th century including William Scott, Jack B Yeats, Paul Henry and Roderic O'Conor" and, a selection of contemporary paintings and sculpture.

Among the highlights is Lot 8, Cloak and Cupboard by Gerard Dillon – an oil-on-board measuring 16 by 12 inches – estimated at €4,000-€6,000. The painting dates from 1957 and was one of three paintings depicting domestic interior scenes from the artist's flat in Abbey Road, London. It was formerly owned by The Irish Times drama critic, the late Séamus Kelly. De Veres said, "In 1945 Kelly joined The Irish Times and was best known for his 'Quidnunc' column in 'An Irishman's Diary' and regularly commented on Dillon's exhibitions in his column until his death in 1979. In an era when journalists were still bohemian, Kelly's social life revolved around Dillon and his Belfast friends George Campbell and Arthur Armstrong when they were living in Dublin in the late 1960s." [see pic]

Lot 16, Gubellaunaun from the Rocks (Achill) – estimated at €40,000-€60,000 – is described as an early Paul Henry which depicts the sea breaking on rocks and doesn't have the traditional thatched cottages, mountains and peat stacks for which he's best-known.

Lot 18, a watercolour by Jack B Yeats entitled ‘Downpatrick Head, Ballycastle, Co Mayo’ estimated at €15,000-€20,000

There's also an early Jack B Yeats in the sale, Lot 18, a watercolour entitled Downpatrick Head, Ballycastle, Co Mayo estimated at €15,000-€20,000. [see pic] Downpatrick Head, located just beside the town of Ballycastle, is an imposing headland that extends out into the Atlantic Ocean. According to a catalogue essay by Yeats expert Dr Róisín Kennedy, the artist visited Ballycastle in Co Mayo several times in his career including with the writer JM Synge in 1905 when he made numerous sketches, several of which he referred to in later oil paintings and watercolours. She said, "Yeats returned to Ballycastle in the summer of 1909 when he painted this work and several other oil paintings and watercolours of Downpatrick Head and Ballycastle Bay. This watercolour differs from Yeats's other paintings of Ballycastle in its dramatic inclusion of a horseman and the use of the framing device of a stone archway through which we can see the expansive view of the coastline."

The top estimated lot at de Vere’s forthcoming sale – William Scott’s ‘Black and White Coffee Pot’, €60,000-€90,000

The highest estimated painting is Lot 33, Black and White Coffee Pot by the Scottish artist William Scott dating from 1955 (€60,000-€90,000).

Lot 49 ‘Big Pears’ is an oil-on-canvas measuring 28 by 40 inches by Blaise Smith acquired in 2006 from the Molesworth Gallery in Dublin (€3,000-€5,000)

Among the more affordable pieces, Lot 49 Big Pears [see pic] is an oil-on-canvas measuring 28 by 40 inches by Blaise Smith acquired in 2006 from the Molesworth Gallery in Dublin (€3,000-€5,000).

Some 27 lots (lots 50-76A), are from an Irish corporate collection – an insurance company which wishes to remain anonymous. It’s the latest corporate collection to be disposed of – following sales by Bank of Ireland, AIB, and Independent News & Media among others. Mr Guthrie said “there was a time when large companies maintained an art budget. Unfortunately, corporate collections are definitely a thing of the past, but the collection in this auction was put together over the last 25 years and comes from many years supporting Irish artists. This is the first tranche from the collection, with more to be offered in later sales.”

The collection is not particularly significant but notable pieces include Lot 50, Free Travel by Martin Gale, an oil-on-canvas measuring 42 by 48 inches, signed & dated 2001, acquired from the Taylor Galleries, Dublin (€6,000-€9,000) [see pic]; and, Lot 53, Aoelus Autumn by Tony O'Malley, an oil-on-canvas, signed, inscribed & dated 1994 purchased from Taylor Galleries, Dublin (also €6,000-€9,000).

De Veres Irish Art Auction, Tuesday, April 17th at 6pm in The Royal College of Physicians, No 6 Kildare Street, Dublin 2. On view now at De Veres, 35 Kildare Street. Catalogue and bidding details at